The Protection from Abuse Act in Pennsylvania was first passed in 1990 and serves to allow victims of abuse to seek and obtain protective orders from the court. These orders can be granted quickly and independently of any criminal case. Violence is unfortunately too common between family members and those in domestic relationships, and protection from abuse orders can prohibit contact with an abusive family member or domestic partner.
A family or domestic relationship is required between the parties to be eligible to seek a protection from abuse order. If one exists, then a court can grant protective orders to protect the alleged victim. If you are currently facing or expecting to face a protection from abuse order proceeding, then you need to act fast, as protections from abuse move on a quick timeline. It is important that you speak to an experienced criminal defense attorney as soon as possible.
What is a Protection from Abuse Order?
A protection from abuse (PFA) order is a protective order that the court can grant. This order is available to specific victims as outlined in the Protection from Abuse Act. The court can prohibit the defendant from having contact with the alleged victim if a PFA is granted.
The allegations to receive the protections of a PFA must be of physical abuse or sexual violence. PFAs are monitored by the court and all law enforcement. When a PFA is granted, it is entered onto the police databases that can be accessed by all law enforcement. If a defendant is accused of violating a provision of a PFA, then the defendant will be arrested and criminally charged. PFA orders are enforceable by all law enforcement.
What are the Different Types of Protection from Abuse Orders?
Two types of PFA orders exist in Pennsylvania: temporary and final PFAs. Both PFAs can give the same level of court and law enforcement protection but are authorized for different periods. Temporary and final PFAs are explained as follows:
Temporary Protection from Abuse
This is the initial protection from abuse order that is available from the court. Temporary PFAs can be obtained fairly easily as the rules are meant to encourage alleged abuse victims to come forward. They are called temporary PFAs because they are issued for a short period until a final PFA can be determined.
The first thing someone must do to obtain a protection from abuse is to file a petition with the court or police station. In this petition, the person seeking protection is known as the petitioner. The person being accused of abuse is known as the defendant. The petition must include specific allegations of abuse or sexual assault and a detailed explanation of what allegedly happened. The judge will likely ask several questions as the allegations must be specific and convincing.
Once the petition is filed with the court, then the petitioner will be required to appear in front of a judge at an ex parte hearing. Ex parte hearings are hearings that a court will direct without both sides in the case. Only the petitioner is allowed at this hearing, and neither the defendant nor the defendant's attorney can be present or heard. Protection from Abuse proceedings are fairly uncommon in the ability for an ex parte hearing to be held, as most cases require both sides to be present at all hearings. Ex parte hearings are allowed in protection from abuse cases because of the immediate need for the petitioner to be protected by the court from the defendant.
If the petitioner convinces the judge that he or she needs protection from the defendant because of abuse or sexual violence, then the court can grant a temporary PFA. This PFA will immediately go into effect, and the court will simultaneously schedule a date for a final PFA hearing. Final PFA hearings are normally scheduled within ten days from the date of the temporary PFA hearing. Final protection from abuse hearings involve both sides in the case, and the defendant is given the right to defend him or herself.
Final Protection from Abuse
Final PFA hearings resemble bench trials in practice. Bench trials are trials without the jury where the judge determines guilt or liability. In a final PFA hearing, both sides must follow all appropriate court rules and the rules of evidence. This means that only relevant evidence that is admissible can be seen and considered by the court when determining whether protection is needed.
If you are facing a protection from abuse hearing as a defendant, then you are able to call witnesses to testify on your behalf, and you are also able to testify if you wish. You can admit relevant evidence in this hearing as well as be represented by counsel. It is important to know that any testimony given at a final PFA hearing can be used in other hearings as it is sworn testimony in court.
Final PFAs are granted when the petitioner proves the case by a preponderance of the evidence. If a preponderance is shown that abuse occurred and that continued court protection is necessary, then the judge can grant a final PFA. Final PFA orders are valid for up to three years at a time.
What Can a Final Protection of Abuse Order Restrain?
Final PFA orders can restrain several activities, including:
- No threatening behavior against anyone named in the order
- No abusive behavior against anyone named in the order
- No harassing behavior against anyone named in the order
- The ability to live with the petitioner or anyone named in the order
- The ability to see children in common and custody
- A suspension of the Second Amendment right to own a gun
- No direct or third-party contact with anyone named in the order
Restitution can be ordered by the court, and the court can determine child custody and visitation temporarily. More permanent orders on custody can be determined at a later date in a different hearing.
Who Can Seek a Protection from Abuse Order?
PFAs are not available for all situations. The parties involved in a PFA case must be related or in a domestic relationship for a PFA to be enforceable. Examples of relationships that can qualify for PFAs include:
- Dating partners
- Intimate or sexual partners
- Relatives that live together
- Same-sex couples
- Parents and their children
The relationship between the parties does not need to be current. Any PFAs with petitioners that are minors must have an adult petition on their behalf.
How Protections from Abuse Are Filed in Cumberland County
If someone lives in Cumberland County and wants a PFA, then their petition must be filed at the Cumberland County Court of Common Pleas in Carlisle, Pennsylvania. The Court's physical address is:
1 Courthouse Square
Carlisle, PA 17013
The Protection from Abuse hotline is 1-800-852-2102, and petitioners can call this hotline to schedule an appointment to start the petition. Petitioners are given the opportunity to speak with a legal advocate during this time who can help them with the petition.
What Happens if Someone Violates a Protection from Abuse Order?
Any violations of PFA orders are considered criminal contempt of court. If a defendant violates a PFA by having impermissible contact or harassing someone named in the order, then the defendant faces arrest and criminal contempt charges. If this happens, then the defendant is given a hearing within ten days to determine whether the defendant is guilty of violating the PFA. If found guilty, the defendant can be sentenced to up to six months in jail and court fines as much as $1,000. If the defendant is found guilty of violating a PFA, then this can be used in other cases against him or her.
What to Do If Facing a Protection from Abuse Petition
If you are facing a protection from abuse petition, then it is important that you get an attorney's help ASAP. You typically have ten days or less to be ready for a final PFA hearing unless the judge gives a later date. Make sure you walk into this hearing ready to demonstrate why the judge should not grant the protection from abuse petition. If you have legal questions, then give us a call at the Lento Law Firm so we can help!
Contact the Lento Law Firm Today
If you have questions about protection from abuse orders in Cumberland County, then it is important that you speak to an experienced attorney. It is important to understand how a protection from abuse can affect your life. The attorneys at the Lento Law Firm have the experience that you need to help put you in the best position in your protection from abuse case. To learn why attorney Joseph D. Lento and his team are the right choice, call the Lento Law Firm at 888-535-3686 or contact us online.